How do you add together all the things you love and turn it into a life?
And then, how do you subtract the things you hate from that and turn it into a life you can afford to live?
* Helping People
* Running Sound
* Being Funny
Maybe I can be a Christian comedian playing to wild animals and lugging my own PA. I could be a baseball writer who hangs out in the press box eating a lot of hot dogs. I could help people hike to restaurants where we discuss theology. I could start a baseball league for feral cats!
As some of you know, I’ve been thinking, searching and praying about whether or not I should go to seminary in the fall. If you’re new to me and this blog, I’ll briefly summarize. After coming out of a long summer of depression, I was so thankful to have survived it that I felt led to somehow share hope with others. I want to let people know things get better, pain and grief are not forever, individuals are not invisible, and there are people who care for them just as they are. It was clear in my heart and mind that God had called me to this task, I just wasn’t sure how I was meant to accomplish it.
I went to Candler School of Theology at Emory University to study for my M.Div. when I got out of college in 1990. But I only went halfway through the program before deciding to quit. (This is how you wind up with a lifelong job in the exciting world of Audio Visual services. No! It wasn’t my college major – Church Administration was.) Anyway, that was long enough ago where none of the credits I accrued would count now. I’d be starting over from scratch. And what was it I wanted to do with a seminary degree? Hospital chaplaincy? Counseling? I wasn’t sure, but I figured I’d have time to decide in the three years it would take to get through the program.
I was certain that if I went back to school, I would want to go full-time. I’m 45 years-old. Ain’t nobody got time to go to school part-time for six years and then change careers when they’re my age. I was pretty sure that between scholarship money and a part-time job I could probably swing the $25,000 a year tuition. But there were still books and food and my condo and all that other stuff you need to live. I have a job that pays pretty well and has excellent retirement plan and benefits. Did God want me to leave all that behind, take a pledge of poverty and go back to school?
I knew that Candler gives out five big Woodruff Scholarships that give full tuition and a stipend for living expenses. But I discovered the other day that the stipend is only $10,000 a year.
I’ve also spent a lot of time talking with several people “in the business” about this decision. But the advice that hit closest to home was from a friend who had been in a similar situation and quit her job to go back to seminary. She talked about how much she had given up. And she told me to think about the fact that if I want to work for change in the United Methodist Church, I may be in a better position to do so as laity instead of as a minister who is employed by the church and subject to its rules and regulations. I thought that was an excellent point.
So I think I’ve finally made a decision. I’m not going to pursue seminary. I’m going to keep my job. (I’m single and really have to be careful about my money. And I REALLY want to retire one day!) I’m going to pursue my call from within the church initially through my home church at St. Mark United Methodist. Our staff is reorganizing and along with it, our Outreach and Missions Programs. I’ll be joining the Missions Committee in January to begin to formulate a new plan for missions at St. Mark, and I will continue to work in our Breakfast ministry with the homeless of Atlanta.
Hopefully, through this work I can continue to hone the focus of my personal ministry. But maybe my calling is just to make the world happier in general. I went to an excellent Table Talk dinner at Candler last week where Dr. Greg Ellison, Assistant Professor of Pastoral Care and Counseling spoke. (I go into that in more detail the next time I blog.) But the crux of his challenge to us was to change the world three feet at a time. He actually gave us each a 3 foot long paper measuring tape from IKEA and asked how the world would be different if we acknowledged and respected every person we encountered within that three foot radius of us – if we treated those people with kindness and dignity and open-mindedness and love.
And that’s just what I’ve been trying to do. I might be naive, but I believe in the transformative power of simply treating others like people who deserve respect. I try to make eye contact with everyone I pass and smile or say hello. I’m trying so hard to make sure no one is my path is invisible. I believe if we all feel valued and cared for, we then also have hope, and with hope and dreams and possibilities the world will be a much brighter and kinder place.
The obvious answer to my search for vocation was answered last night. I’d been going about it in the wrong way. I’d been looking to God for guidance instead of a 12-hour “Dr. Who” marathon on BBC America. Clearly, I’m meant to travel as the companion to the Tenth Doctor saving the universe! My eyes have been opened.
I struggled with sadness and shame and depression for the last year. But I have come out on the other side with a deep desire to discover who I am and who I’m meant to be. A big piece of what I’ve discovered is that I’m unhappy in my current profession. And I feel called by God to help others through their times of darkness and help them to know there is hope and help them feel loved and accepted in this mean and confusing world. Initially I felt this meant I was supposed to go back to theology school to get my M.Div. and go into a ministry like counseling or hospital chaplaincy.
But I also realize that to help others, I need to feel fulfilled as well. I’m not excited about the prospect of three years of school and the ordination process. I worked with our homeless ministry yesterday morning at church and came home feeling exactly the way I’d like my work to make me feel. I felt I was helping others. I felt I was making a difference. But I know there’s a difference between four hours in a church basement and a full-time job.
So now I’m wondering, does it make more sense to keep my fairly well-paying job and find my fulfillment in other ways outside my job? Still, that’s 40 hours a week feeling dissatisfied. Do I spend $100,000 to go to school and spend four years preparing for new career where I might feel like I’m doing more to help the world?
We talked about the parable of the mustard seed in Sunday School this morning from Matthew 13:31-32. One of the takeaways is that great things can grow from something small and become a place where “the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.” Can my volunteer work be a place where something strong and welcoming grows, where I can help others and I find my satisfaction?
Our sermon this morning was from Genesis 32:22-31 where Jacob wrestles with the angel. They wrestle all night and finally the angel says, “Enough all ready! It’s morning. Let me go!” and Jacob replies that he will not stop fighting until the angel blesses him. The lesson was about how our struggles can heal us and how turning away from them can keep us from reaching our full potential and from becoming our whole authentic selves – from being blessed. I thought to myself, “Well, should I wrestle with this long process of school and ordination so I can find my blessing?”
Maybe this search for vocation and healing in and of itself is my wrestling match. Or maybe I’m meant to go back to school and that’s the fight. I might only know the answer if I apply for theology school and see if God blesses the struggle with a big scholarship! Still looking for the answers.